There was a modicum of good news in the latest visa statistics (for the year ending end of September) which showed, apparently,
- an 8% increase in all student visas issued
- a 6% increase in those issued to university students and
- a number of individual country increases including what looks like quite a significant 27% increase for India (great news for me having been based there with the British Council for five years, promoting UK study, just before joining UKCISA).
Of course, as we have seen in the past, not all of these result in actual enrolments and we will have to wait a good year to see what those have actually been. And ONS estimates issued at the same time, showed a reduction of 23,000 in all students coming to the UK from both non-EU and EU countries so the picture is a little confused but it seems as if there could at least be some slightly more positive signs for the UK after a pretty turbulent period.
There were also some positive announcements in the Budget, mainly affecting researchers but also promising ways in which largely Masters students will be able to apply for Tier 2 jobs more swiftly having finished their courses rather than waiting for their formal results.
Before any of that comes into force however we are still waiting for the changes to the Immigration Rules which we expected, as usual, in October but which we are now told may be laid in Parliament ‘either before or after the Christmas recess’. We can only presume that all delays relate to the nation’s favourite subject – our old friend Mr Brexit!
Once they are, however, we will be doing our usual speedy analysis for members and then turning our attention to the subsequent changes to the Guidance (on which we have in fact already had some quite substantial in-confidence discussions).
Many of you may be working on your submissions to the MAC consultation and we have been discussing possible evidence and points to make with UUK, the Russell Group, NUS and others. The more we look the more reports seem to exist on economic value and yet another and very substantial one was published last month on ‘The Economic Impact of International Students in Wales’.
It showed export earnings of £487m, supporting over 56,000 visits to Wales by family and friends of international students and over 6,850 full time jobs supported – all from some 22,000 international students (in HE alone).
You may also have seen the latest UCAS figures (for 17/18 acceptances) which were again a bit of a mixed bag with non-EU up 5% but EU down 2.1%.
As UCAS noted, the EU fall is quite significant after several years of quite substantial year on year growth but, as they also said, taking EU and non-EU together ‘The number accepted from outside the UK increased by 2 per cent to the highest ever total, the fifth successive year acceptances from this group have increased.’
So there we are, more good news! (Although again important to remember that the figures only relate to undergraduate study).
International student experience
Many will debate if, whether and why the UK is becoming more attractive – and the pound will certainly be one factor and the cold wind of change in the US perhaps another – but we would also like to think that despite all the hubbub, students do recognise and respect not only the UK’s academic strength but also the range and sophistication of advice and support services which so many of you provide.
Which is why we have focussed so firmly on ways of helping you to develop new and ever better approaches through our research and pilot projects grants scheme and Primary Contacts should have just received copies of comprehensive reports on the latest waves of projects – with a list of all those supported over the last three years now also on our website. Featuring best practice and recommendations on:
- Student web videos
- FE and volunteering
- Student safety
- Music students
- Student union engagement
- Family relationships
- International summer schools
- and many more issues described in depth so that all can see what approaches might also be developed elsewhere.
And some of these – and some from earlier years – will be touched on at the UUK International Student Experience conference next week (part chaired by the Chair of our Board, Prof Koen Lamberts) at which we will be speaking and others who have benefitted from the grants we provide. The programme is clearly making an impact - and it was very encouraging, for instance, to find that Sheffield Hallam’s 15/16 project on sexual health information, which was awarded that year’s Paul Webley Award for Innovation in International Education, was also shortlisted for the Outstanding Student Support Award at the Times Higher’s event last week.
Scotland, Manchester and London – member events
Those who came to our (free!) members seminar in Glasgow last month heard fascinating presentations on some of the previous and some of the new projects now being developed this year, in Scotland, and we were delighted to have a senior representative from the Scottish Government with us who wrote afterwards to say:
‘The projects that were on show were really interesting pieces of work, and it’s encouraging to see institutions looking into some really innovative ways of supporting international students. I was absolutely sincere when saying that we really appreciate the work that UKCISA does, both in its own work advising and advocating for international students, and in supporting its members in developing good practice.’
Bookings will open soon for our Manchester event on 13 February (again free and please do put date in diaries) when we will again look at recent and current projects being undertaken with those who are leading on them and discussing how we can all ensure the best possible experiences for all our international students.
New unified UKCISA website
Probably our most and best used service though continues to be our website which will, once again, be going through a radical transformation in some 10 day’s time.
As you will be aware we currently in fact have two separate sites, one for anyone and everyone (and especially students and the public) and a second for institutions (and then within that a substantial password protected zone for members). That has had some advantages but it has also led to some confusion, duplication and some useful information not being found easily.
What we have now done (or virtually done) is to combine the two so that the information for students, colleagues and the general public is all on one site. There is a personalised members’ view for you to log in, see password-protected content, bookmarks, resources you’ve downloaded, forum posts you’ve made as well as access to our Manual, Understanding International and the Forum. It will also be, as the student site is already but not the members one, accessible on mobiles and tablets.
I am told the launch date is 15 December (though possibly late in the day) which might just catch you before many will disappear on leave but if you don’t catch it before, then a happy new year present for when you return! Please do share any feedback with us at email@example.com and let us know if you’re interested in taking part in a focus group in the new year.
Finally 2018 – a big year for the UKCISA community and all its friends and associates – Changing lives for good
Before we get to that, however, we have just opened our call for proposals from those who would be interested in presenting at our 50th Anniversary Conference next June which will cover our normal range of topics but, as it is a special year, will be under the general banner and theme which we will be using throughout the year of ‘Changing lives for good’:
- how students can transform their lives by studying in the UK,
- how you help them to do so and
- how they, on their return to their home countries, help to transform the lives of others.
All Primary Contacts should have already just received multiple copies of our special anniversary calendar with the winning photos under this theme from our international student competition (and if anyone would like further copies, do contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Invidious of me to say which image and caption I liked best – but up there with the best must be what might seem like a reasonably ordinary autumn view of a UK campus but with the words “It’s maybe a normal day at my university. But this is an unforgettable time in my life”.
But what we would like you to do when we launch in full at the start of the new year is to capture more of those sentiments and build on this theme, using the hashtag #ChangingLivesForGood, by tweeting examples of how you and your students are ‘Changing Lives’.
- What was great about your orientation programme this year?
- What new projects is your student union doing?
- What are students doing in local communities and with their volunteering programmes?
- What extraordinary challenges have some overcome to get to and succeed in the UK?
- How are different nationalities coming together and learning from each other?
- What are recent alumni doing back home with the skills and expertise they have gained?
As we say in the calendar, since UKCISA was established 50 years ago, some 5 million (yes 5 million!) students have come to the UK. So let’s celebrate the fact and the great experiences they get and that what we are all attempting to do over the longer term and why all this work really matters, is to ………..change lives for good!
So do tweet, put it on your website, link to it and us- and help to spread the message and celebrate all that is being achieved!
Best wishes and seasonal greetings from us all.
Dominic Scott, Dominic Scott, Chief Executive, UKCISA